Chapter Two Thousand Three Hundred Forty-Three
6th December 1974
As Sophie watched, the sentries on the edge of the grounds of the Winter Residence did a onceover on her Bianchi bicycle. She knew better than to say anything flip about what they might be searching for. They took this all very seriously and lacked a sense of humor.
“Thank you, Fraulein” The Sentry said as he handed Sophie’s identification back. “You are expected.”
Nella and Nan had big plans for this weekend, and they wanted Sophie there to help out. They were going to the Alexander Marketplace, one of Sophie’s favorite places especially during the Christmas Season and they had invited her to spend the weekend.
“Thank you” Sophie replied awkwardly before she peddled her bicycle away from the guard post. She still expected Unteroffizer Auer to be here when she went to visit Antonia and Annette; Nella, and Nan to their close friends, though she knew that he had left months ago.
Sprocket resumed his place at the front of the basket on the front of her bicycle that he rode in. He had retreated under the blanket when the bike was stationary, not even bothering to growl at the sentries. To them, he was hardly considered a dog, which proved that they didn’t know as much as they thought they did. He had his nose in the wind, probably enjoying the rich tapestry of smells of the trees and fields.
It was a relatively warm day for December, though the sun was out, there were patches of snow in shady spots. She had promised Katherine and Douglas that she would mind the weather reports before going out. After what had happened a couple years earlier it was a continuing concern, that Sophie wouldn’t let stupid little things like the weather get in the way of her plans.
As Sophie picked up speed, she reached down and shifted to a higher gear. She had rebuilt the Bianchi over the last few months with much improved drivetrain and tires. The new “Super Record” gearset was made by Campagnolo that was as good as the Shimano gearset on her red “No Name” bicycle and the latest Continental Grand Prix tires. She had saved up for the gearset, but the tires had been a bit of a surprise when she got them for free. It seemed that Continental had learned about her racing over spring and summer. They were trying to entice Sophie into agreeing to use their tires exclusively in the future and had given her a couple sets of tires for both her bicycles. Douglas said that it was because the giant tire company recognized her potential and soon enough, others would as well.
Slowing to a stop, Sophie looked at the large house that was the home of the Emperor and his family during the winter months. His younger sister lived in a guest cottage elsewhere on the grounds when she was in Berlin. Nella and Nan remained here, though as they had gotten older. Their parents, the Emperor Emeritus and his wife were often elsewhere with Louis Ferdinand having been appointed to be a Special Ambassador. Whatever that meant. Unclipping Sprocket from his basket, he jumped to the ground and started sniffing around the bushes that grew around the side of the house as Sophie undid the straps that held the panier bags to rack on the back of her bicycle. Sophie knew that she could leave her bicycle under the overhang next to the side entrance without bothering to lock it. It was probably the most secure spot to leave it anywhere. Unless there was a State function, no one entered through the front doors.
Opening the door, Sophie saw that other than another Soldier who was too disciplined to look bored, no one else was there to greet her. That meant that the Emperor and Empress were out today. If they were around, the security would have been far more robust. “They are waiting for you in the Solarium” The Soldier said when he saw Sophie. The Sentries out on the perimeter would have phoned as soon as Sophie had gotten through them. It was just a glimpse of the many layers of security that Nella and Nan lived inside, and it made Sophie glad that she lived a relatively normal life.
Sophie knew the way to the solarium, a room copied from the Old Winter Residence that had always been popular with the various Empresses and Ladies of the Imperial Court. Sprocket ran a bit ahead of her. He spent enough time with Nella and Nan to track them easily, or he might just as easily be headed towards the kitchens in the hope that someone had dropped something edible.
Sophie was amused that thought.
Eventually, Sprocket led her into a room that was full of bright sunlight. There was the fragrance of soil and that flowering plants that grew year-round. It might have seemed like an extravagance, but Sophie knew that the double paned glass made the room extremely efficient to heat. Sophie saw Nella and Nan. When she had first met them they had looked close enough in appearance that people thought they really were sisters. That had changed as they had grown older with Nella’s hair turning from blond to brown, she was also half a head taller than Nan.
“You made it Sophie” Nella said before giving her a suffocating hug. “Where’s Franziska?”
“Her mother is planning this whole formal celebration of the holidays” Sophie replied, “Ziska is going to be fitted for a dress tomorrow along with her sister.”
Nella made a face. She had been through that process countless times and didn’t like it because it always seemed to result in uncomfortable clothes. Sophie glanced at Nan who had scooped up Sprocket and was scratching behind his ears. That little traitor, Sophie thought to herself.